Missing the Militant City
SIGH! I had hoped to be writing a blog post on how I found Isaac Marrero-Guillamón’s presentation on The Militant City at Furtherfield’s new digs in Finsbury Park amazingly illuminating. Alas the postuser internet is a demanding beast and I spent most of the day debugging AI with a pidgin dialect of Python.
Rachel Baker alerted me to this event and I was pretty taken by it. Isaac Marrero-Guillamón is researching the militant city in collaboration with Birkbeck University of London and the Spanish Ministry of Education. Militant City is concerned with how art can antagonistically articulate itself against the abstract machine that is the Olympics.
Ah yes that Delezuean chestnut. Maybe it’s a sign of how much that doctrine has permeated my thinking but I really had very little difficulty comprehending how one could frame the Olympics as an entity unto itself, operating without any single presiding human agency. The transformations it effects on physical space and the amazing interlocking cogs of bureaucracy contained within it are apparent to most. Marrero-Guillamón research develops an understanding of this greater-than-human agency further.
The Olympic mega-event regulates what is visible and invisible, sayable and unsayable, thinkable and unthinkable; it distributes individuals and groups in positions of ruler or ruled. We are interested in eruptions of dissensus against this consensual space: works that challenge that cartography of the sensible and the thinkable; practices that shake up the ordering of what can be seen, said, or thought.
I’m guessing the activist angle on the Militant Cities outlook reflects that it is ultimately concerned with the human experience: whether it’s those that are swept along by the force which an Olympics can exert on an urban locale and feel ‘regeneration’ in a more ‘keeping the wolf from the door’ manner than most of us can appreciate, or those who wish to resist it or observe it and only realise after the fact the extent of what has transpired. Not that I am suggesting these are the only ways to experience an Olympics. Moreso that I wish to express that this element wasn’t what I found most interesting about Militant City (at least in terms of what Rachel explained to me about it).
What’s really interesting about the Olympics is the transformation in the local legal topology it brings about. The specificities of the case studies which Marrero-Guillamón has observed are unavailable to me (because, did I mention, I couldn’t attend today) but I was aware that mega – events of a smaller (Copenhagen Climate Summit) or comparable scale (World Cup South Africa) have instigated sharp additions to the legal framework of the city/country they inhabit (pre crime like policing powers in the former and fast tracked punitive measures against minor transgressions [most frequently laid against the local populace] in the latter). This edifice of legality, often laws and measures alien to the context in which the organic law and order operates, left behind by mega events fascinated me. This is because I’ve been interested in the parallels between law as an abstraction that exerts material effect and code, which does something similar (something brought into stark relief by Robot Futures, which raised the fascinating notion of who is liable in a world which we share with Robot companions? Who is liable for robotic car crashes (or more salaciously, who can US spouses sue if their partner’s infatuation with a sex(companion)bot is sufficient enough to spoil their union). Lawrence Lessig is the first author I’m aware of to have articulated the comparison in an in-depth manner, but the parallel is one that is easily scalable. His manifesto (The Code is Law) was also concerned with the social control inherent to writing both forms of code (and any text that draws out the socially constructed and constructing elements of code/software wins is gold in my opinion) I have a fascination how both abstracted languages impact on, or touch, many more realities than those they are strictly intended to govern
The 2012 Olympics should provide an interesting exploration in that regard, especially given this states appalling love affair with liability and also its weird (when viewed objectively) common law, which is very autochthonous and, dare I say, emergent when positioned in contrast to the alien legal framework carried in by Olympic bureaucracy (like a grey squirrel or similar). The dubious developments surrounding the legal husk of the Olympics has been twitching at my peripheral vision for some time now (see how the concerns of stopping subversion have sponsors and local government singing from the same prayer sheet )
To my (limited, thus far) knowledge, some of the most interesting regulation is occurring in those realms at the bleeding edge of bureaucracy and social control: advertising. There are enough overlapping zones of branding within the Olympics for the farsical situation of mobile phone reception to be forcefully occupied (in the good old fashioned sense of the word ‘occupy’). See Moving Forest, domination of the signals is old hat to those really in the know.